Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2007

A few oddities adorn Maple Leaf’s 50th

October 25, 2007

It was going to be a different Maple Leaf Festival with the newly implemented animal ban in place, but a lack of dogs was hardly the oddest thing about the 50th anniversary of the fall classic.

A National Football League head coach, Green Bay Packer Mike McCarthy, was here. There was a cement truck in the grand parade, a strangely appropriate sight with the Downtown Streetscape Project attracting those trucks by the score. But, the oddest sight had to have been another truck on High Street after the parade when the crowd was at its peak.

"The Ottawa Sanitation truck coming around the corner from Eighth onto High, right in front of the committee office, was something that made us all do real double takes," said Sandy Cardens, a member of the Maple Leaf Festival committee. "We know they come to pick up trash, but to our knowledge they've never come right through the middle of the festival.

"That will be one for the Maple Leaf Funny Book," said Cardens. "The Baldwin Police Department had to come get him turned around and back out through the crowd. All I could say was 'what was he thinking?' Of course, in hindsight it's funnier than it was at the time."

The trash truck "incident" didn't last long, however.

"Yes, the trash truck at Eighth and High in the peak of attendance was a challenge," said Donna Curran, festival committee chairman. "With some great help from the police and crowd, all went well in turning the truck around and heading it north on Eighth with no one getting hurt. It is just one of those 'ooops and how did that happen?'"

McCarthy was here to be enshrined in the Baker University Sports Hall of Fame. He's a Baker graduate and took over the Packers last year. His presence brought a lot of people to town and he had an autograph session Saturday afternoon. It's believed to be the first time an NFL coach has been at the festival. It was the Packer's bye week, so they weren't playing.

Another believed to be first was the cement truck in the parade. By the time the downtown project is over, hundreds of the trucks will have likely been downtown. So, it wasn't a strange sight for locals.

"I thought the cement truck in the parade was odd, but a lot of things in parades are odd," said Cardens. "I like bands, pep squads, floats, old cars -- loved Bert Hitchcock and his fender riders -- and Elmo the Clown."

There's another oddity with this year's festival. It was Elmo's swan song after 27 years of performing. Danny McMillen, who has donned Elmo's gear all those years, is retiring.

"We will definitely miss having Elmo in the parade," said Curran. "He has been such a part of the Maple Leaf Festival in the parade and on the committee in the past. The crowd just loves him. Maybe some day he will return and ride in the parade."

As for the animal ban at the festival -- the result of an ordinance passed by the Baldwin City Council as a result of a dog bite situation at last year's festival -- the first-year results were good.

"We had less than 10 dogs Saturday," said Curran. "When we explained to the owners that the city had an ordinance banning dogs, most were very understanding and all removed their dogs.

"On Sunday, we had less than five dogs," said Curran. "So, I think it went very well for the first year."

Cardens agreed.

"I believe we had about a dozen dogs show up here and there, but those were handled very gently by committee members and the police officers if needed," said Cardens. "There were a couple of visitors that wanted to defy the ban on dogs, but after a visit with officers and an explanation of why, they were mostly cooperative."

Although all of those items were odd, there was another.

"Oddities? Hmmmm. How about the tram driver who, when his shift was over, got down from the driver's seat, told everyone to get off the tram and then left -- even left the keys in the tractor?" said Cardens. "(Baldwin City Councilman) Ken Wagner stepped up and drove the tram the rest of the day. (State Rep.) Tom Holland drove Sunday."

Politics in action for the Maple Leaf. Yes, it was an odd weekend. Always is.

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